Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

NASA Experiments Recreate Aromatic Flavors of Titan

16.06.2014

NASA scientists have created a new recipe that captures key flavors of the brownish-orange atmosphere around Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

The recipe is used for lab experiments designed to simulate Titan’s chemistry. With this approach, the team was able to classify a previously unidentified material discovered by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft in the moon’s smoggy haze.


This Cassini image from 2012 shows Titan and its parent planet Saturn.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI

“Now we can say that this material has a strong aromatic character, which helps us understand more about the complex mixture of molecules that makes up Titan’s haze,” said Melissa Trainer, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The material had been detected earlier in data gathered by Cassini’s Composite Infrared Spectrometer, an instrument that makes observations at wavelengths in the far infrared region, beyond red light. The spectral signature of the material suggested it was made up of a mixture of molecules.

To investigate that mixture, the researchers turned to the tried-and-true approach of combining gases in a chamber and letting them react. The idea is that if the experiment starts with the right gases and under the right conditions, the reactions in the lab should yield the same products found in Titan’s smoggy atmosphere. The process is like being given a slice of cake and trying to figure out the recipe by tasting it. If you can make a cake that tastes like the original slice, then you chose the right ingredients.

The challenge is that the possibilities are almost limitless in this case. Titan’s dirty orange color comes from a mixture of hydrocarbons (molecules that contain hydrogen and carbon) and nitrogen-carrying chemicals called nitriles. The family of hydrocarbons already has hundreds of thousands of members, identified from plants and fossil fuels on Earth, and more could exist.

The logical starting point was to begin with the two gases most plentiful in Titan’s atmosphere: nitrogen and methane. But these experiments never produced a mixture with a spectral signature to match to the one seen by Cassini; neither have similar experiments conducted by other groups.

Promising results finally came when the researchers added a third gas, essentially tweaking the flavors in the recipe for the first time. The team began with benzene, which has been identified in Titan’s atmosphere, followed by a series of closely related chemicals that are likely to be present there. All of these gases belong to the subfamily of hydrocarbons known as aromatics.

The outcome was best results were obtained when the scientists chose an aromatic that contained nitrogen. When team members analyzed those lab products, they detected spectral features that matched up well with the distinctive signature that had been extracted from the Titan data by Carrie Anderson, a Cassini participating scientist at Goddard and a co-author on this study.

“This is the closest anyone has come, to our knowledge, to recreating with lab experiments this particular feature seen in the Cassini data,” said Joshua Sebree, the lead author of the study, available online in Icarus. Sebree is a former postdoctoral fellow at Goddard who is now an assistant professor at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls.

Now that the basic recipe has been demonstrated, future work will concentrate on tweaking the experimental conditions to perfect it.

“Titan’s chemical makeup is veritable zoo of complex molecules,” said Scott Edgington, Cassini Deputy Project Scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “With the combination of laboratory experiments and Cassini data, we gain an understanding of just how complex and wondrous this Earth-like moon really is.”

The laboratory experiments were funded by NASA’s Planetary Atmospheres program. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Goddard built and manages the Composite Infrared Spectrometer.

Related Links

› NASA's main Cassini website
› Cassini project website at NASA JPL
› More information about the Composite Infrared Spectrometer

Liz Zubritsky | Eurek Alert!

Further reports about: Cassini Flavors Flight Space Spectrometer Titan atmosphere gases hydrocarbons

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Shape matters when light meets atom
05.12.2016 | Centre for Quantum Technologies at the National University of Singapore

nachricht Climate cycles may explain how running water carved Mars' surface features
02.12.2016 | Penn State

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA's AIM observes early noctilucent ice clouds over Antarctica

05.12.2016 | Earth Sciences

Shape matters when light meets atom

05.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”

05.12.2016 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>